7 Common Eye Problems in Dogs [+Signs, Causes & Prevention]

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vet checking chihuahuas eyes

Like human eyes, dog eyes are vulnerable to various problems that impact their vision. Fortunately, most conditions can be successfully treated if you catch them early. 

The most common eye problems include:

  • Cataracts
  • Glaucoma
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Corneal ulcers
  • Progressive retinal atrophy
  • Cherry eye
  • Dry eye

In this article, I’ll explain the eye conditions listed above and describe symptoms, prevention, and treatment. After that, I’ll break down when each condition usually manifests in the life cycle.  To help you take care of your furbaby, I’ll give you a list of signs to watch out for and tips for care and prevention.

Common Eye Problems

Dogs can suffer from various eye conditions. Understanding the most common issues can help you identify problems and seek treatment early.  


Cataracts involve hardening of the eye lens that causes it to become cloudy or opaque. When the lens clouds, light scatters as it enters the eye. Dogs with cataracts have poor vision, and the extent of vision impairment depends on the amount of lens that’s affected. Dogs with mature cataracts may eventually become blind.

The age of onset for cataracts in dogs depends on the type or classification of the condition. Congenital cataracts are present in puppies. Juvenile cataracts develop in young dogs by 5 years of age. Senile cataracts occur in middle-aged or senior canines.

Symptoms of cataracts include:

  • Cloudiness of the eye lens
  • Bumping into furniture
  • Resistance to going downstairs
  • Struggling to find the water dish

Various factors can cause cataracts in dogs, including trauma, metabolic diseases like diabetes, toxins, nutritional imbalances, old age, or inflammation. Some dogs, including Siberian Huskies, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Boston Terriers, Yorkshire Terriers, and Poodles, are genetically predisposed to developing cataracts. 

If cataracts are left untreated, the opacity may increase. Eventually, the cloudiness can fill the lens and cause blindness.

Congenital cataracts are hard to prevent, but you may be able to reduce the risk of other types by treating underlying conditions like diabetes. Additionally, limit your dog’s exposure to UV light and feed a well-balanced diet that includes nutrients like omega fatty acids to promote vision health.

Treatment of cataracts is surgical removal of the lens.


Normally, the dog’s eye is designed to have a perfect balance between the production and drainage of fluid inside the globe. When something disrupts fluid drainage, it causes an increase in intraocular pressure(glaucoma).

Glaucoma is usually a chronic condition that occurs in middle-aged or senior dogs. 

Signs of Glaucoma include:

  • Eye pain/redness
  • Acting head shy
  • Excess tear production
  • Visible 3rd eyelid
  • Cloudy cornea
  • Dilated pupil

Primary glaucoma is caused by a malfunction of the normal aqueous humor drainage pathway inside the eye. Secondary glaucoma can be triggered by inflammation, cataracts, cancer, or trauma.

Without immediate treatment, the building pressure inside the globe will cause irreversible eye damage and eventual blindness.

Glaucoma is usually treated medically with painkillers and drugs that promote drainage and help to relieve intraocular pressure. In severe or advanced cases, the eye may need to be surgically removed.


Conjunctivitis involves inflammation of the mucosal tissue covering the outer layer of the eye and inside of the eyelid. It’s commonly referred to as canine pink eye.

This condition can occur at any stage of your dog’s life.

Symptoms of conjunctivitis in dogs include:

  • Red eye
  • Green or yellow eye discharge(and sometimes the nose)
  • Squinting/holding the eye shut 
  • Constant blinking
  • Rubbing/pawing at the eye

Causes of conjunctivitis in dogs include viral or bacterial infection, allergy, foreign body/trauma, or blocked tear duct.

Leaving conjunctivitis untreated in your dog can affect his quality of life because the condition is usually uncomfortable or painful. There’s also a risk that your dog will injure his eye by rubbing or pawing at it.

To prevent conjunctivitis, keep your dog up-to-date on vaccinations and keep the hair around the eyes trimmed to prevent irritation and infections. You should also treat any underlying conditions, including allergies.

Treatment for conjunctivitis varies depending on the underlying cause but may include topical steroids, antibacterial, or antiviral drops. 

Corneal ulcers

Corneal ulcers are injuries or erosions of the eye’s outer surface that reach through the epithelial layers to the stroma. 

Dogs can develop ulcers at any stage in life.

Signs of corneal ulcers in dogs include:

  • Rapid blinking
  • Holding eye shut/excessively squinting
  • Rubbing the eye
  • Excessive tears
  • Redness/swelling around the ulcer
  • Cloudy appearance of the eye

Common causes of corneal ulcers in dogs include trauma, chemical burns, irritation, infections, or other eye conditions like entropion or dry dye. Certain dog breeds, including Shar-peis, Samoyeds, Dachshunds, and brachycephalic breeds, are predisposed to corneal ulcers.

Without treatment, corneal ulcers tend to worsen, resulting in loss of vision or permanent eye damage.

To prevent corneal ulcers in dogs, use an e-collar to keep them from rubbing or pawing at the face if they have corneal abrasions. Another way to prevent some ulcers is by treating any underlying conditions that can cause erosions.

Veterinarians usually treat corneal ulcers with topical antibiotic drops, lubricating drops, and anti-inflammatories. The doctor may also recommend an e-collar to prevent self-trauma during the healing process.  

Progressive retinal atrophy

Progressive retinal atrophy(PRA) in dogs is an inherited disease that involves a slow deterioration of photoreceptor cells in the retina.

In affected dogs, the retinal cells start to deteriorate in adulthood. This condition is more common in certain breeds, including Retrievers, Poodles, Cocker Spaniels, Welsh Cardigan Corgis, Papillons, and Irish Setters.

Symptoms of PRA include:

  • Night blindness
  • Dilated pupils
  • Hesitation on stairs
  • Bumping into door frames
  • Bumping into objects 

PRA is an inherited condition with several genetic variations.

There is no known cure for PRA. The condition will progress slowly and eventually cause blindness in your dog.

The only prevention for PRA in dogs involves purchasing puppies from breeders that won’t breed any stock known to carry the genetic markers.

Treatment for PRA is supportive and includes blocking stairways with safety gates, adding extra lights indoors and outside, not rearranging furniture, leash-walking your dog in unfamiliar surroundings, and special training. 

Cherry eye

With cherry eye, the tear gland prolapses or pops out from behind the 3rd eyelid. When it pops out of position, the gland swells and turns pinkish-red.

Cherry eye can happen at any age.

The primary symptom of cherry eye is a pink or red lump in the corner of the eye. Other signs may include dry eyes, pus drainage, or a swollen eyelid.

The condition is probably caused by weakness of the ligaments that hold the gland in place. Dogs that are prone to cherry eye include French and English Bulldogs, Cane Corsos, Great Danes, Beagles, Boston Terriers, Shih Tzus, and Cocker Spaniels.

Sometimes, the gland will pop in and out repeatedly. Leaving the condition untreated can lead to blockage of the tear duct, dry eyes, and corneal ulceration.

Because the cherry eye is genetically linked, your best chance of prevention is purchasing puppies that don’t have a family history of the problem.

Surgical correction is usually the treatment of choice for cherry eye. The gland is either sutured into place or removed.

Dry eye

When dogs have dry eyes, their tear glands do not produce enough tears to lubricate the surface of the eyeball. 

Dry eye is most common in adult dogs around 4-6 years old, but it can occur at any age.

Signs of dry eye in dogs include:

  • Red eyes
  • Thick, mucoid eye discharge
  • Constant blinking/squinting or holding the eye shut
  • Head shyness
  • Rubbing face/eyes
  • Cloudy or dull eye appearance

In dogs, dry eye is usually caused by an immune-mediated condition that affects the lacrimal gland. Still, it can also be caused by viral infections, long-term use of certain drugs, hypothyroidism, and inner ear infections. Certain breeds, including Springer Spaniels, Boston Terriers, English Bulldogs, Pugs, Lhasa Apsos, and Shih Tzus, are genetically predisposed to developing dry eye.

Dry eye is extremely painful, and leaving it untreated can affect your dog’s quality of life. The condition can also cause corneal ulcerations and blindness.

.You may not be able to prevent immune-mediated dry eye. However, keeping your dog up-to-date on vaccinations, treating underlying conditions, and following your veterinarian’s directions when giving your furbaby medication may help reduce the risk.

Treatment for dry eye includes tear-replacement drops and eye ointments that prevent the destruction of the tear gland.

Eye Health Problems across the lifecycle

Eye problems can occur at different points in your dog’s life cycle. Congenital cataracts are usually present in puppies, but diseases like PRA take time to develop and are more likely in middle-aged or senior dogs.

Eye Health Problems in Puppies

Of all the eye issues commonly affecting dogs, congenital cataracts appear during the puppy stage. Other conditions that can commonly affect juvenile dogs include conjunctivitis and cherry eye.

Eye Health Problems in Adult Dogs

Adult dogs experience the bulk of eye problems. Juvenile cataracts and dry eye usually affect mature dogs around 4-6 years old. Other conditions that manifest in the adult years include corneal ulcers and conjunctivitis. 

Eye Health Problems in Senior Dogs

When eye health issues take time to develop, they’re usually more common in older dogs. Conditions that tend to affect senior dogs include glaucoma, senile cataracts, and progressive retinal atrophy. 

Eye Problem Signs Dog Parents Should Beware of

Knowing the symptoms of common eye problems in dogs can help you recognize issues and seek appropriate treatment early. Below are several signs that your dog may need veterinary attention.

  • Cloudy lens or eye
  • Bumping into items
  • Acting head shy
  • Reluctance to go down the stairs
  • Excess tearing
  • Squinting or constant blinking
  • Red eye
  • Eye discharge – often yellow or green
  • Dilated pupils
  • Pinkish/red lump in the corner of the eye

Common Causes of Eye Problems

There are various causes for eye problems depending on the particular condition. Some are genetic, while others are caused by environmental factors.

  • Genetic or congenital
  • Bacterial or viral infection
  • Trauma or injury
  • Metabolic or nutritional 
  • Secondary to another disease

Eye Health Care Tips and Problem Prevention

There are several things you can do at home to take care of your dog’s eyes and help prevent problems.

  • Schedule annual health checks with your veterinarian and stay up-to-date on vaccinations.
  • Trim any long hair around the eyes trimmed to prevent irritating the eye.
  • Check your dog’s eyes regularly for
    • Tearing, discharge, or crusts 
    • Redness or cloudiness
    • Unequal pupil size
    • Color of the lining
    • Protruding 3rd eyelid
  • Clean gunk from your dog’s eyes whenever it’s present
  • Don’t let your dog hang his head out of the car window to prevent injury from dust and debris
  • Feed a balanced diet with omega fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamin A, and other nutrients that support eye health

The Final Woof

Dog eyes are susceptible to many of the same eye problems as humans. Without treatment, many of them can lead to vision impairment or eye damage. Fortunately, they’re usually also treatable. When you understand the common issues and know what to watch for, you’ll be prepared to act quickly if you see signs of trouble. By practicing eye regular eye care and taking some basic preventative measures, you should be able to catch issues early and seek veterinary care. 

Photo of author
Dr. Libby Guise earned her DVM from the University of Minnesota in 1994. After working in private practice in Wisconsin for two years, she joined the USDA as a Veterinary Medical Officer. In 2011, Libby came home to focus on raising and teaching her adoptive daughter. She lives in Wisconsin with her daughter, husband, and two furbabies: Charis, a lab-mix rescue pup, and Chesed, a Springer Spaniel.

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